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Published: Wednesday, 3/10/2010

How to help potted plants thrive outdoors

Have you received some pretty spring bulbs as a gift recently? They make a great centerpiece indoors when the plants haven't started blooming outside.

One reader, Sue Swain, says, "I recently received some beautiful tulips that have bloomed in a pot, but what do I do with the bulbs now?"

That's easy! Give them a rest. The bulbs that are blooming inside right now have been forced to bloom early. This takes a lot of energy from the bulb; sometimes it takes so much that they don't make good candidates for your outdoor garden.

But if you want to give it a whirl, all you need to do is let the bulbs fade just as they do in the yard in the late spring and summer.

After several weeks, when the potted bulb's flowers have faded, snip off the spent stems but don't remove the foliage; the bulb needs that to grow.

It may seem like a big mess when the plant's blooms start to die off, but you need to let the foliage continue to thrive until it withers on its own. Outdoors, after about six weeks, when the flowers have faded, go through your bulb bed and snip off the spent stems. But remember to leave the foliage to feed the bulb for next year's bloom. Once the foliage pulls out of the pot or ground easily, you can rake it to clean up the garden bed, or recycle the container.

If you start to see a decline in the blooms or the size of the plant out in the garden, then it is time to divide your bulbs. After the foliage has died back, dig the bulbs out of the ground with a spade or pitchfork. Toss out the diseased bulbs and replant the healthiest ones.

For potted blubs, dig the bulb out of the pot and brush off all of the soil. Cut the foliage back to a couple of inches above the body of the bulb. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry place throughout the summer. Label the container so you know what color the bulbs are and how tall they will grow. This will help you plan when planting them behind shorter perennials or bulbs already in your yard.

If your bulbs are in the ground, fertilize them early in the season with bone meal or a fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorous - those are the last two numbers on the fertilizer bag. Sprinkle it around the bulbs as the foliage is emerging, and use about two pounds per 100 square feet, Ohio State University experts recommend.

In the fall, take the stored bulbs out of their hiding places and develop a planting plan. Add some fresh bulbs to your garden, planting them in clumps of at least five of the same type of bulb in one spot. This will give them a stronger design element and a nice pop of color in the spring. If you plant one bulb all alone, it will get lost in the foliage of the other plants around it. Have fun mixing and matching colors, textures, and sizes for a great spring and early summer display.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at:

kheidbreder@theblade.com



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